LMS group head receives £1 million award to investigate how drugs get into cancer cells

 7 March 2022   Institute News

We are proud to share the news that Dr Louise Fets, head of the Drug Transport and Tumour Metabolism research group at the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences (LMS), has received a Career Establishment Award from Cancer Research UK (CRUK). The award of £1 million over six years will be used to further her work into drug transport.

For a cancer treatment to be effective, it needs to be able to enter cancer cells and either kill them or stop them from replicating. Most research to date has focused on ensuring cancer drugs can enter the cell by diffusing through their membrane. However, the role of specialised membrane-embedded proteins called ‘transporters’ is starting to come to light. These proteins are important in all cells as they are required for the uptake of nutrients, however it appears they may also play an important role in drug uptake. This poses a potential problem as all cancers are unique and will express different amounts of these transporters, which means if the transporters are fundamental to drug uptake, those cells that express less could evade treatment. It is thought that these differences in transporter expression could partially explain why some patients respond well to cancer treatments, whereas others do not.

Dr Fets plans to use the funding from her CRUK award to investigate how different cell membrane transporters impact on the uptake of a wide range of cancer drugs – which drugs require specific transporters to get into cells, and which transporters tend to be expressed specifically by different types of cancer. Dr Fets hopes this knowledge will help clinicians to better identify which treatment will work best for each of their patients. This will mean they can personalise their patient’s treatment plan, giving them the best chance.

Commenting on her receipt of this award, Dr Fets said: “I am thrilled to have received a Career Establishment Award. Our previous work has demonstrated transporter-dependent drug uptake has significant implications for how well a drug works, and this support from CRUK will allow us to build upon this knowledge, enhancing our understanding of what governs cellular uptake of a wide range of cancer treatments.

“By collaborating with clinician scientists within the excellent CRUK and Imperial networks, we will be validating our basic biological findings in patient samples. The long-term goal is for our insights to aid in improving predictions of which drug a patient is most likely to respond positively to, based upon the unique make-up of their tumour. This will be an important step towards being able to provide a much more personalised therapeutic approach.”

The CRUK’s Career Establishment Award aims to support new group leaders who already hold a salaried position establish their own independent research group. Successful awardees need to demonstrate a range of skills and experience CRUK considers pivotal to ‘establishing independence’ in their career.

This CRUK award will enable Dr Fets to expand her research group by two. You can read more about Dr Fets and her lab’s work at the MRC LMS here.